29 March 2019
DETERIORATING SITUATION WITHIN THE DIOCESE OF KUMBO
The situation within the Diocese of Kumbo has continued to deteriorate in the context of the ongoing socio-political crisis in Cameroon, ever since it degenerated into an armed conflict in 2017. From September 2018 to March 2019 things have only got worse. It began to escalate in the Diocese in September of 2017 when Cameroon’s security/defence forces used live ammunition on protesters during protests that were largely peaceful, as noted by the Bamenda Provincial Episcopal Conference in their Declaration of 4 October 2017.
There have recently been disappearances and corpses found in various communities time and again. Within the last 7 months, several civilians have been killed. Some of those killed have been persons with disabilities and the aged who could not run away to safety. Here are only a few statistics of the recent killings: Romajai (4), Mantum (11), Jakiri (03), Meluf (13), Mbiame (10), Oku (04), Lun (03), Kumbo Square (03), Ndu (06), Nwa (15), Sabongida (10), Nkor (05), Ngarum (02), Oku (02), Ndu (03), Bomasoh (5) and other places. Since the close of 2016, a total of 358 civilians have been documented killed by the belligerent parties – a figure likely to be much higher, since corpses are being discovered every now and then. It is hard to know the number of state forces or pro-independence fighters that might have been killed.
Many houses including homes, business centres, private and public property have been burned down in various localities in the Diocese of Kumbo within the last 7 months. The belligerent parties have not claimed or accepted responsibility for these burnings. Yet the figures are quite alarming, as indicate these few statistics:
In Kumbo Parish: Kumbo Squares/Taa-Nkum (36), Lun (03);
In Shisong Parish: Shisong (01), Kirumin (13), Mbuluf (46);
In Jakiri Parish: Mantum (09), Shiy (03), Ber (27), Jakiri (06), Noi (7);
In Bamkika’ay Pastoral zone: Bamkika’ay (16), Romajay (24);
In Mbiame Parish: Mbiame (10);
In Meluf Parish: Nsa’me (21), Fiikov (08);
In Ndzevru Parish: Ndzevru (36);
In Oku Parish: Kive (20), Mbam (4), Tolon/Jikijem (4), Lang (2), Mboh (6), Lui (3);
In Ngarum Parish: Taku (18), Nchati (16);
In Nwa Pastoral Zone: Mbak (85);
In Tobin Parish: Nyaaro (39), Bamngoiy (3), Yungkui (03).
In all, over 750 houses and structures have been burned in the Diocese since the end of 2016 – a figure that is also likely to be higher.
The pro-independence fighters have kept many roads impassable and grounded economic activities, the education sector and social life across the Diocese. There have been repeated reports of abductions by the same, and in some cases, reported torture and demands for ransoms. These abductions have included the disquieting saga of Saint Augustine’s College: 176 members of the college were abducted on 16 February 2018, including 170 students generally below 18 years of age. Three priests – who tried to follow the trail of the abductees – were also detained by the same, and all were only released the following evening. The incident forced the institution to close down, alongside the Minor Seminary. The enrolment in our Catholic Schools for the academic year 2015-2016 before the crisis escalated indicates an estimate of the number of children who are likely to be out of school now, except those who have moved and enrolled in other places: in Nursery and Primary Schools, 19,500 and in Secondary/High Schools, 5,000.
The health sector has been greatly affected. Kumbo is home to Saint Elizabeth General Hospital and Cardiac Centre, Shisong (the only cardiac centre in West and Central Africa), Banso Baptist Hospital (B.B.H), and the centre run by the psychiatrist Dr Eric Gohla. Several people are said to have died at home, who might have survived if they had access to health facilities. It is hard to imagine how many lives are being lost for the simple reason that patients are not able to move. The hospitals have had a tough time getting medication and other hospital provisions into Kumbo. Patients that are referred to those hospitals, or from them to others, often get stuck. Those from around, who might manage to find a motorbike to transport them, pay huge sums of money to get to health facilities. They end up not having money to foot hospital bills or pay for medication. Health workers have been victims of the crisis. Three nurses have already been shot and killed on their way to/from work, dressed in their work attire. State forces have got into health facilities with firearms supposedly searching for anyone suspected to be a pro-independence fighter undergoing treatment.
There have also been reports of looting and rape. And in addition to the activities of the state forces and pro-independence fighters, there is a possibility that a few individuals might be using the situation to settle personal scores with others. Because of all these – the killing, looting, burning, rape, random gun battles, shortage of food and other provisions, abductions and torture, growing hate and suspicion, difficulty of burying the dead with dignity, threats and so on – thousands of persons have been displaced within the Diocese, and many others have fled to other places out of the Diocese. Our services have documented over 9,900 persons displaced within the Diocese, with statistics available only from 19 out of our 34 Parishes and Pastoral Zones – and this is a conservative figure. Many of them live for days and weeks in the farms and bushes. Kumbo, the seat of the Diocese, is largely deserted and many settlements turning to ruins.
The farming season of 2018 was irregular due to the situation; so has been the one that is just beginning, with only an estimate of 20% of the population having planted in an area that largely depends on agriculture. Food insecurity, malnutrition and associated health challenges are imminent in the near future.
Pastoral activities are slowing down and becoming more and more tortuous. However, none of our Parishes has been closed down, even though some mission stations have been deserted or find it hard to function. This is evidence of the deepening of faith in our communities and the commitment of the clergy and other pastoral agents as well as the faithful in the various Parishes and Pastoral Zones. The Bishop of Kumbo, Most Rev. Msgr. George Nkuo, salutes this resilience and commitment. A number of Diocesan pastoral engagements have, however, been suspended, the last of them being the Annual Pilgrimage to Boyong Hill in St. Martin de Porres’ Parish, Ndu, which takes place statutorily every Friday of the Third Week of Lent. This is due to the fact that roads have remained blocked, and also because the Church cannot guarantee that going ahead would not unnecessarily endanger the lives of the faithful. Deaneries and Parishes are organising pilgrimages at their various levels, as requested by the Bishop earlier. Some have already successful carried out the pilgrimages to various significant places.
The Diocese of Kumbo, together with some of her partners such as MISEREOR (the German Catholic Bishops’ Organisation for Development Cooperation) and the Diocese of Limburg in Germany, and using donations from other groups and individuals as well as local collections, has been offering assistance to some of those displaced and affected. This emergency relief programme has comprised food, material items, provision of health services and psychosocial support. Hundreds of these Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have recently been hosted in some of our Diocesan facilities and in the homes of some individuals.
The Bishop of Kumbo renders gratitude to all the groups and individuals that have made donations to support this endeavour or are hosting some of the IDPs, and to all those who are yet to do so. He condemns the atrocities being committed within the Diocese, and expresses his sincere condolence to those who have lost dear ones. He likewise denounces the gun battles in civilian residential areas and near health facilities, as well as the intimidation within hospitals and other health facilities. The Bishop calls on all those who can offer assistance to the IDPs, to do so through our CARITAS Department, which has been working in collaboration with our Diocesan Justice and Peace, Family Life and Health Commissions. He further urges all the faithful to continue praying for justice and peace, that all the stakeholders may silence the guns, listen to the voice of reason, and find a lasting solution to the crisis.
Rev. Elvis Nsaikila Wanyu Njong, S.D.,
Diocesan Director of Communications